Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg
(PG-13, 88 min.)
"You will do foolish things. But do them with enthusiasm." Colette
Sure, it’s laugh out loud funny at times, but what really anchors this film are the two leads. Only Tina Fey and Steven Carell could make it cool to be so square. They are real even if the plot isn’t, exploring the comic realities of marriage and middle age with a minimum of cynicism and snark.
Most romantic comedies end in marriage, but this one takes the bold move of playing within its boundaries. We have to go back over half a century, say to The Thin Man or television’s Mr. and Mrs. North, to find the gentle humor of married life as a backdrop for a little bit of mystery and mayhem, unless you want to count the pathetic Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a film that transforms the battle of the sexes into an all out assault with deadly weapons.
The catalyst here is no great crisis in the relationship, just a slight case of ennui, the kind experienced by most couples stretched thin by the dual demands of career and parenting. Even the weekly date night has become part of a listless pattern. So tax accountant Phil Foster (Steve Carell) decides to rock the ledger, so to speak, taking his realtor wife to a trendy restaurant in “the city” instead of settling for the familiar family fare in their New Jersey neighborhood.
The swanky seafood place, Claw, like the small cadre of elites known only by a single name, sports a maître d’ who takes on the condescending air of the establishment with the same unearned arrogance of hourly employees at a fashionable boutique. He tells them their chances of getting a table without reservations are about as good as a politician’s promise, but they decide to wait at the bar for an opening anyway. When three calls for the Tripplehorns go unanswered, Phil seizes the opportunity, and claims their reservation.
Except that just like Cary Grant in North by Northwest, this mistaken or in their case borrowed identity brings unintended consequences. It seems the real Tripplehorns are on the run from the mob, and no amount of fast-talking is going to convince the thugs who approach their table that Phil and Claire Foster are merely a New Jersey accountant and his wife out on date night, their only real offense stealing a reservation and not a flash drive.
On the theory that nothing so concentrates the mind as the prospect of hanging, the low key couple swing into high gear to outwit their captors, inspiring Marriage Encounter moments in between their slap dash getaway. One of their best couple friends has decided to end their marriage, saying their relationship has dwindled down to “being really good roommates.” “That’s not us, is it?” Claire queries as they careen around curves, cars, and curbs at breakneck speed, both of them running away from their mutual vulnerability as much as the bad guys in pursuit.
At one point they trade their favorite fantasies. Phil’s, involving Cindy Lauper, is as sweetly outdated as he is. Claire’s is certainly not the stuff of the Sex in the City set, but one flirted with at one time or another by every working mother: an hour alone in an air-conditioned hotel room with a diet Sprite. (Of course, I’d opt for a banana split or something equally decadent, but even in her fantasies, Claire is disciplined.)
The sexual tension is also sweet and square as well as buff and bare in the form of a shirtless Mark Wahlberg – of Marky Mark and Calvin Clein underwear fame to some of us old enough to remember -- playing a former real estate client and expert in high tech security that Claire searches out to help them. Of course his bulging pecs raise the hackles on the diminutive Phil, as does his wife’s mild flirting with the hunk, whose fingers are as adept on the computer as he imagines they might be in other areas of interest.
What you have to love is how the hapless Phil –“your androgynous friend” is how one unkind individual refers to him – doesn’t give up, and how he begins to earn Claire’s admiration for his efforts. He suffers through a feminist book club discussion, negotiates overtime expenses with their opportunistic babysitter, and brazens it out with his behind the curve cursing. And then there’s his pole dance at the stripper club, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.
Date Night delivers exactly what it promises, and a little bit more – a smart and stylish parody of a thriller whose predictable plot is balanced by a couple that isn’t. A hat tip to an era when square was not only okay, it was the glue that cemented our world.
Claire and Phil’s big night out is a lot like their marriage, filled with frustrations and the teasing taste of joy, only to have it whisked away from them. The last essential hours of sleep end with the gymnastic assault of their two children onto their bed. The overpriced but delicious risotto at the Claw Restaurant in Manhattan is almost literally wrested from Claire’s mouth by the two thugs who interrupt their dinner there.
Here is a delicious recipe for Seafood Risotto, just enough for the two of you, but overflowing with succulent shrimp and scallops and creamy golden saffron rice. Enjoy in the quiet security of your own quarters, and please don’t tell anyone that your name might be Tripplehorn.
Risotto must be served immediately so you can best savor its rich creaminess. With this version, there's just enough for two healthful portions. Complete the meal with a salad, bread, and crisp white wine.
Yield: 2 servings (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups)
- 2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
- 1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 1/4 cup chopped shallots
- 1/2 cup uncooked Arborio rice
- 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 4 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 4 ounces bay scallops
- 2 tablespoons whipping cream
- Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
- Bring broth and clam juice to a simmer in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.
- Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots to pan; cook 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add rice and saffron to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add lemon juice to pan; cook 15 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in 1/2 cup hot broth mixture; cook 2 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 18 minutes total).
- Stir in tomatoes; cook for 1 minute. Stir in shrimp and scallops; cook for 4 minutes or until shrimp and scallops are done, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in cream. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.
Recipe Source: My Recipes.com